By: Jim Howell/GCU Club Sports Information Director; Maria Adams, Giovanni Hicks and Zach Melcher/GCU Club Sports Writing Staff
Never been a better time to call it a new year.
The word ‘new’, though, describes a lot more than just the turning of a calendar page, or even the enthusiasm from the GCU Club Sports coaches and student-athletes of embarking on a season that is hopefully either restriction-free or just less COVID-hampered. Part 3 of our four-part GCU Club Sports season preview series gives us a look at how the remnants of the pandemic have actually created new opportunities for several club sports teams and personnel heading into 2021-22.
Not ‘Working from Home’ anymore
A game played outside the Phoenix area? Laughable. A game played outside the state of Arizona? Are you crazy?!
There was no complaining about being in the back of a bus or a van last year for Lopes’ club sports teams very used to traveling to states such as California or Utah for conference matchups. That’s because the vans/buses/planes were parked and silent for teams in 2021-22 – the schedules removed by the pandemic. For GCU Women’s Hockey, though, what was a travel shutdown last season is a travel expansion this year. The Lopes are facing the toughest schedule in their five-year history beginning in a month, and Lopes’ Head Coach Natalie Rossi couldn’t be happier about it. Not only are the Lopes able to head out-of-state again, they’re heading to places they don’t normally have a chance to, such as Colorado (to play both University of Colorado and Colorado State University) and Missouri (Lindenwood University and McKendree University). The highway also runs both ways, since the Air Force Academy and the University of Massachusetts will make their first-ever trips to AZ Ice Arcadia (the Lopes’ home ice) to face the Lopes.
GCU Women’s Club Soccer is also ecstatic about seeing waves crash against the beach, since its top team heads to San Diego, California, for the first time since 2019 to play in the San Diego Cup at the end of this month as part of its fall schedule.
He’s been waiting ever since he arrived on the GCU Campus in the fall of 2019 to fully ‘spread the wings’ of his GCU Men’s Rugby program, and now Lopes’ Head Coach Sean O’Leary will do just that. A program that stayed limited to playing regular season games only in the spring is now starting up its regular season schedule much earlier. The University of Colorado and the University of Arizona will get the Lopes’ schedule rolling in October, and it will continue through what they hope will be the D1A Rugby Round of 16 Playoffs in April (which the Lopes last participated in two years ago).
For other teams, the expanding schedule will happen because of new divisions and conferences. Both the GCU Men’s Club Soccer and GCU Women’s Club Soccer teams helped get the Southwest Soccer Conference started in 2019, but weren’t sure it would survive the first-year ‘growing pains’ of 2019 and then the pandemic-influenced 2020 cancelled campaign. The SSC has not only survived, but now thrives with a fortified lineup of teams (including Arizona State University, University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University on both sides, and the University of New Mexico for the women’s soccer portion), and a regional qualifying tournament for both men and women.
Meanwhile, GCU Artistic Swimming wasn’t allowed to make ripples in the pool last season, but can jump back in knowing that they have two athletes already competing with USA Artistic Swimming, and the squad will compete in a competitive league in 2021-22 for the first time ever.
Pulling Off A ‘STUNT’
GCU Club Spirit navigated its way through the COVID-19 shutdown, and came out of it still bound and determined to widen the scope to one of the fastest-growing female sports around: STUNT. The immensely popular head-to-head competition of routines in various categories has been on the Lopes’ radar for over a year, and they will head to their first STUNT tournament in February at Arizona State University.
One Becomes Two
Finally, two other squads will expand their divisions within the ranks. GCU Club Wrestling had to leave the mats in the storage room a year ago, but will not only roll them out again in 2021-22, they’ll also roll out a new team with them. Lopes’ Head Coach Mickey Nunez announced that for the first time in its three-year history, Lopes’ Wrestling will feature a full schedule for its growing women’s roster.
GCU Water Polo has also wanted to rearrange the rosters for over a year, since the spring was spent as a single, co-ed squad, and their roster numbers this year will allow them to do just that. The Lopes’ Women’s Water Polo squad will get to compete for regional and national titles this year after joining the Collegiate Water Polo Association, and the men’s side can compete with a full team for the first time in a college series against teams throughout Arizona.